New citizens are all smiles at Beeman
NEW HAVEN — Melinda Knights, a native of the Philippines, first came to the United States in 2009.
“Since I was small I was dreaming to come here to the United States,” the St. Johnsbury resident told a questioner at the Beeman Elementary School gym on Tuesday afternoon.
“I really, really love this country,” Knights continued. “And I am so very proud that I am here today.”
She was one of 21 Vermont residents from 14 countries who stood before a federal judge, swore to “bear true faith and allegiance” to the United States, and became U.S. citizens in a naturalization ceremony hosted by Beeman.
The new citizens came from five continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some had emigrated from as close as Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic; others from as far away as Kenya, Bhutan, India, China, South Korea, the Philippines and Fiji. South America was represented by new citizens from Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.
“Hosting the naturalization ceremony at Beeman is always a great honor,” said Beeman teacher Annette Carter. “Our students learn about the path to citizenship and the stories behind people who come to this country and dream for it to become their home.”
Carter and Arnell Paquette, who both teach fifth- and sixth-graders at Beeman, integrated the naturalization ceremony into their curriculum in a number of ways, including learning about refugees.
The Beeman and other ANeSU students’ contributions were an integral part of the heartfelt ceremony. Girl Scouts from Troop 30335 welcomed attendees into the building. Boy Scout Andrew Nolan led the Pledge of Allegiance. After the color guard from Bristol’s American Legion Post 19 brought in the colors, the Mount Abe Sweet Transitions a cappella group sang the national anthem.
Five Beeman students shared poems they had written for the new citizens on the theme of “Our Wish.” The poems detailed the students’ hopes and dreams for the new Americans and also spoke eloquently of what home meant to them, including “the sound of peepers” and “the sweet smell of freedom.” One poem advised, “Kindness and love is the key to fun.”
Poems from all Beeman fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders who’d been part of the “Refugee Project” unit were included in packets given to all 21 new citizens.
The Beeman Chorus performed the state song, Diane Martin’s “These Green Hills.” And the New Haven Town Hall/Beeman gym was transformed by the students’ art and decorations.
At the front of the hall, colorful, larger-than-life flowers flanked a giant American flag, with a border beneath of red, white and blue bunting. Along the walls hung student artwork (created for the refugee unit) that showed how deeply these young Americans had contemplated what it might mean to leave or lose one’s home.
One painting, captioned “Stuck Between,” showed a man with a jagged line down the middle of his face, breaking him in two. Another, captioned “I Will Be Back,” showed a lone figure against a sky with tears that hung like huge rain drops. Several were simply captioned “Hope.”
Carter said that as students’ learned about the challenges many refugees confront, they wanted to help. The students brainstormed different ideas and eventually started thinking about how to help families with babies and young toddlers to carry. Kids wondered if they could send little red wagons overseas. But Carter said she finally steered their big ideas toward a more doable contribution — soft baby carriers. Part of one wall carried displays of the baby carriers that Beeman students and families had contributed thus far.
Beeman’s baby carrier drive is part of the larger “Carry the Future” campaign and is still ongoing.
Rounding out the ANeSU contribution to the naturalization ceremony, the welcome address was given by ANeSU Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca, who emigrated from Cuba with his family at the age of eight.
In what was clearly an emotional moment for the former immigrant, Vilaseca welcomed the candidates for citizenship.
“There’s no better country in the world than the United States,” he told them. “I myself became a U.S. citizen about 25 years ago. I was born in Cuba and came to this country, so it is particularly special for me to be here with all of you … This is to me a very emotional and also a very proud moment, and I’m proud of all of you. I know it hasn’t been easy to get where you are and to be here and become U.S. citizens.”
Officiating the ceremony was the Honorable Colleen A. Brown, chief U.S. bankruptcy judge for Vermont. In her remarks Judge Brown described America as a “collage, not a melting pot” and spoke to how each of the new citizens’ stories and contributions would enrich their new country. Brown then administered the Oath of Allegiance and called all the candidates forward to get a handshake and receive their new certificates of U.S. citizenship.
The offices of Sens. Leahy and Sanders and U.S. Rep. Welch all sent representatives, as did the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
To become a citizen, a person must
• Be at least 18 years old.
• Be a lawful permanent resident for at least five years.
• Have “good moral character.”
• Speak, read, write and understand English.
• Take the Oath of Allegiance.
• Demonstrate knowledge of U.S. government and history.
The ceremony concluded as the Bristol Town Band led the new Americans, Beeman and Mount Abe students, family members, well wishers and other attendees in Woody Guthrie’s anthem to American inclusivity, “This Land Is Your Land.”
For more information on Beeman’s soft baby carrier drive, contact Annette Carter at [email protected]. To learn more about the nationwide Carry the Future campaign, go to carrythefuture.org.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].
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